How music makes you happier – Life Hacks – photo of violinist

How music makes you happier

A 3 minute read • Alan A

Part of our life hacks series. Music has been at the heart of human experience from the rhythmic chants of our distant ancestors to the near-unlimited sounds of today’s streaming services. It’s been called a universal language and the food of love. But what is it about music that makes it so integral to our lives? And how can we put it to best use to make us feel happier?

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It might surprise you to learn that music can be more than just the sound track to our lives. The American Music Therapy Association2 advocates “clinical and evidence-based music interventions” to promote wellness, manage stress, enhance memory and even to alleviate pain. A 2015 study in The Lancet found that listening to music can even help patients reduce pain and anxiety following surgery3. So it seems that music can be a powerful medicine.

Music and emotion

As many of us experience regularly, different aspects of music can convey – and even elicit – specific emotions1. Fast tempos are associated with happiness, excitement and anger. Slow tempos on the other hand can relay sadness or serenity. Consistent rhythms indicate happiness and peace – while irregular rhythms can signal amusement, joy or even unease. And loud music can carry intensity, power or anger.

How music makes you happier – Life Hacks – abstract picture of musical staveSo you can see why music might be described as a universal language. There are even more facets to the language. Major keys are linked with happiness and joy; whereas minor keys portray more melancholic feelings. Complementing harmonies are associated with happiness, relaxation and serenity while clashing notes convey excitement, anger or unpleasantness. But how does it all work?

How does music influence us?

While the power of music to deliver an emotional response may vary – and the listener’s own experiences and associations play a part – there is little doubt that music can have a positive impact on our wellbeing.

Psychologists Juslin and Västfjäll4 developed a model of seven ways in which music can influence us and elicit emotion. Taking just a few examples:

  • certain sounds may trigger brain stem reflexes
  • music may influence our bodily rhythms (for example heart rate)
  • the listener may conjure up visual images which in turn induce emotions
  • or the listener simply perceives the emotional expression of the music and then “mimics” it internally

So it appears that music really can “get under our skin”.

How do you use music in your life?

Another large scientific study5 found that people use music for several purposes:

  • to provide a comfortable level of activation and a positive mood
  • as a “valued companion”
  • for social relatedness

In this article I’m focusing on the first and main use – we use music to make us feel good.

Personally, I use music for relaxation, to lift my mood if I’m feeling a little low, and always when exercising – it gets me through it! If you’d like to listen to more music, why not consider one of the music streaming services? I use and recommend Amazon Music Unlimited – they have 40 million songs so you’ll never get bored. There’s currently a Free Trial Offer via the links in this article. I’ve also included some detail below from a study that saw participants who listened to music feeling happier in under two weeks. Happy listening!

Amazon Music Unlimited – Free Trial Offer
If you take out a trial via the links above, will receive a small payment from Amazon. This helps cover our costs. This does not affect your trial or future costs if you continue after the trial.

How music can make you feel happier in two weeks

Research at the University of Missouri discovered that people can actively improve their moods, especially when cheerful music aids the process6.

“Our work provides support for what many people already do – listen to music to improve their moods,” said lead author Yuna Ferguson, who performed the study.

In two studies by Ferguson, participants successfully improved their moods in the short term and boosted their overall happiness over a two week period.

During the first study, participants improved their mood after being instructed to try to do so, but only if they listened to the upbeat music of Copland, as opposed to the more somber Stravinsky. Other participants, who listened to the music without attempting to change their mood, also didn’t report a change in happiness.

In the second study, participants reported higher levels of happiness after two weeks of lab sessions in which they listened to positive music while trying to feel happier, compared to control participants who only listened to the music.

Amazon Music Unlimited – Free Trial Offer
If you take out a trial via the links above, will receive a small payment from Amazon. This helps cover our costs. This does not affect your trial or future costs if you continue after the trial.

And finally

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1Music and Emotion, Wikipedia
2American Music Therapy Association
3Music as an aid for postoperative recovery in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis – Hole, Hirsch and Ball – The Lancet
4Emotional responses to music: the need to consider underlying mechanisms – Juslin and Västfjäll
5The psychological functions of music listening – Schäfer, Sedlmeier, Städtler and Huron –
Frontiers in Psychology

6Ferguson and Sheldon – University of Missouri

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